Up the river



Mists rise off the rippled skin. A fish leaps and smacks the surface. Smell the river, the green-brown water, the hint of diesel from our boat.

IMG_3499Further up the river’s a mirror. It seems we’re floating in the sky.

IMG_3508Alongside these mirrored lands

IMG_3509These fractal islands


riverbank1IMG_3511From the scrub, a tntinnabulation of bellbirds; a pelican flaps over like a Pterodactyl.

I recall Judith Beveridge’s poem, River Music: ‘The bird’s song reached us, then it sharded into the river’s cold glass.’




Being a tourist in your own city

Sometimes its great to do touristy things in your own city – the stuff you don’t normally do. Stay in a hotel at the harbourside, have a ‘rear window’ experience. You are anonymous – try a fake accent!

a 'rear window' situation

a ‘rear window’ situation

threads of light

coloured baubles

looking out of windows into other windows

inside, blurred shadows, half-glimpsed

A leanfaced young man with steel eyes and a thin highbridged nose sat back in a swivel chair with his feet on the new mahongany-finish desk. His skin was sallow, his lips gently pouting. He wriggled in the little chair watching the little scratches his shoes were making on the veneer. Damn it I don’t care. Then he sat up suddenly making the swivel shriek and banged on his knee with his clenched fist. ‘Results,’ he shouted. (John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer)

Luna grin

Luna grin

the window perspires raindrops

Annette Messager's intestines, body parts like plush toys

Annette Messager’s intestines, body parts like plush toys

From Tabaimo's exhibition at the MCA in Sydney

From Tabaimo’s exhibition at the MCA in Sydney

Annette Messager's heart

Annette Messager’s heart


smoky city

smoky city

the iconic scene

the iconic scene

the coat hanger and the insect



‘The Wasteland’ evoked in Delhi portrait – Dasgupta’s ‘Capital’

Rana Dasgupta dedicates Capital to “the unborn”. Capital is not just a portrait of a city – it’s a vision of the future. Delhi is portrayed as “hypermodern”, not striving to catch up with the West, but a truly modern city, a megopolis, a place where “…people all over the world can find their destiny most clearly writ”. This is a layered city, its shopping malls and fly-ways, its apartment blocks and ticky-tacky built upon the red bricks of the Mughal forts. The river here is the sacred Yamuna, now a sludge of sewage, plastics, rubbish and chemicals, all the city’s waste freely flowing into it.

Dasgupta invokes T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, and here, March is “the prettiest month”, and the flowers are the flawless frangipani blooms, placed strategically around the gated and guarded communities, the glass mansions of the moneyed elite.

Through a series of interviews, Dasgupta non-judgmentally reveals the attitudes and hopes of Delhi’s rich, the new Indian “middle” classes, not really in the middle, but living at the top, in glassed-in worlds. These people are Dasgupta’s orphans, products of a place born out of invasions, migrations, massive disruptions and upheavals. They are the warriors, fighting for what can be gained, before it is taken. These orphans, “bred out of the baked land”, carry the legacy of immense trauma, of the Partition, that great global event, its effects seeping out across the world. Delhi’s super-rich, like the global super-rich in every country, live rootlessly, without real connection to the land or rivers, or the wider community, keeping money off-shore in Swiss bank accounts, sending their children to American schools. Delhi is a resource that can be exhausted before moving on.

For Dasgupta, Delhi is an example of what we are all heading towards. It is a Dystopian view, but toward the end of the book Dasgupta offers hope. This is a vision of the great Yamuna before it reaches the city, flowing clean and vital, under the infinite sky, and the knowledge that it was always here and will endure after the city is gone. Along with this, the certainty that new insights and visions will also be produced in the global world, and that this creativity can be a precursor to Utopian, rather than apocalyptic futures.

This is a disturbing, though beautifully written work. An important book for our times; I really recommend it.



Hold On – asylum seekers’ song recorded!

Last year I wrote about my friend and neighbour Lorraine Vogel, who was raising funds to record a song of welcome to asylum seekers, a message of compassion and hope. Well, Lorraine has done it! The Pozible target was reached and the song recorded!

Grab a tissue and have a listen to this uplifting song being performed by the Rainsong choir here.

Lorraine gives her heartfelt thanks to everyone who gave their time, donations and talents to bring the song to life.

Please share widely.



Vale Doris Lessing

She died today at home, aged 94. Doris Lessing, writer of more than 60 works, of novels, short stories, plays, poetry. A writer who defied categorisation, a writer of ideas.


Many critics claim the Golden Notebook was her best work, but in my opinion it’s The Four-Gated City.

The Four-Gated City

The Four-Gated City

It’s a great loaf of a novel, the culmination of her Children of Violence series, about the young Martha Quest, who in this novel begins her life over again in post war London. It’s a long time ago that I read this book, but I remember and love her descriptions of London, of drinking tea in Jimmy and Iris’s cafe, looking out through the grimed glass, walking hurridly through the bombed-out streets, the ruined houses, the ever-present river. She writes about the city as a slow-moving organism, the buildings bombed out by war revealing layer after layer of wallpaper – each an emotional expression of lives lived within.

It’s a novel about about life lived under the nuclear threat. She draws on imaginary novels, diaries, letters, notes shopping lists and actual historical events to build a picture of a society breaking down.

She was a prescient writer, ahead of her time. Vale Doris Lessing, I’ll be reading your books again.

See Doris Lessing video here.


Author as publicist

Whether published by large or small publishers, writers are now expected to take an active role in helping to publicise their books.

Many writers these days have websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and are expected to build up a ‘following’. For writers, it can all become a bit distracting, as noted by Cate Kennedy in her essay, ‘Driven to Distraction’ where she says that ‘the last thing a writer needs is the clamoring, 24/7, caffeinated babble-fest that now beckons so seductively from the glowing screen’.

Here I am writing another blog post. I’m not sure if anyone reads it. Although the web statistics tell me there are visitors and the numbers are surprising. Who are these people?

Blog-writing is time-consuming and I wonder whether to keep it going or not. Maybe I’ve been a bit half-hearted about it and ought to get into it more. Though in reality it is taking precious time away from other ‘real’ writing. What to do?

Another reason some writers find this self-publicity thing daunting is that we may be quite introverted. We may pretend to be out-going but it’s all a façade and we would much prefer to be holed up in a cabin in the wilderness reading and writing than interacting with the world, digital and real. What is the ‘real world’ anyway?

Shy or not, we have an overwhelming desire for communication, or else we would not be writing. Cos I think, that’s what it’s all about really. For me, anyway.

Having said all that, I’ve lately heard a few clues and hints about publicity and promotion which I would like to share:

1. Champion other writers. I can’t express how much gratitude I feel toward Walter Mason, author of Destination Cambodia. Walter has so generously promoted my work in many ways, including on his website and Twitter, without being asked. Co-operation is the way to go – this is Walter’s philosophy. To support and promote others without expecting reciprocation. His fascinating blog is a feast of interviews and guest blogs with writers, as well as tips for promoting your work in the digital age. 

2. If you are a debut author, submit your book to ‘Friday Night Fictions’. This is an item on Kirsten Krauth’s blog, ‘Wild Colonial Girl’ – a great blog, well-worth checking out. Kirsten, author of the novel Just a Girl, decided to create a space for first-time authors to see and comment on each others’ work, a digital soiree. Click here for guidelines. 

3. Go regional! A key message at the recent NSW Writers’ Centre ‘Selling your book in the digital age symposium’ was that as an ‘emerging’ author you are more likely to get into festivals or events or attract audiences at readings in rural places than in the cities where author readings are far more frequent and commonplace.

4. Online community. Publishers can apparently be convinced by writers who already have a built-up online following. Some writers say to build up a “fan-base” long before you even release your book. Another message from the above symposium.

5. Social media. Begin with one thing, say Facebook, and become adept at it first, rather than trying everything at once. Follow authors you admire. Watch and learn from other writers who are good at this stuff.

6. Blog about your varied interests – this will bring readers to your website and create links to your book. Know your audience, be true to yourself.

Comments? Ideas on promoting and selling your book?

More hints here.

What self-marketing ideas can be applied to writers of literary fiction? Do literary fiction writers have ‘fan bases’? What can literary fiction writers do to promote and sell their work? See discussions below:



I am at a loss. Any more thoughts, ideas?

blue sizzle


Another sizzling day in the mountains, the sky cream-blue, smoke from the fires still slow-burning in the National Park. The fires aren’t out, they are making their way through inaccessible country, a land of gullies and ridges. You can see it on Google earth, the folded country, the crinkled terrain, traversed by fragile pale lines – the narrow sandy or rocky tracks. The folds of the land are like waves, beaten down and eroded by the scrape of glaciers long ago, then by a great sea – and now the dry winds whittle out the shapes, the canyons, caves, the overhangs. Our houses trail along the ridges, small and fragile, a trail of litter, lapped by those great waves.

Heat is coming into the day now and cicadas are in full, strident song; they chant in unison, they speak with one voice, and the dogs, lying in the heat seem uneasy, ears vibrating with these chiming chants.




Cicada are still emerging, busting out the backs of their glassy shells, then crouching in the lower branches of trees, wings folded, bulging red eyes seeing this new world of heat and light.



Because of the smoke, all the world has a bluish tinge, seen as though through water. The soft limbs of the scribbly gums are blue-white, the leaves of the trees blue-olive.

Outside is a smell of burning eucalypts, and inside, the smell of burnt toast.

dogs are uneasy

dogs are uneasy

The colour of dreams

I segue into thinking about the colour blue, the attraction of blue, the bowerbird and his collection of blue playthings – pegs, lids, twine, ballpoint pens. He tends to favour dark blues, royal blues, but closer to the bower is a layer of pale yellow things – straw, dead leaves, cicada cases, dried yellow flowers.

bower 8 Oct 13

bower 8 Oct 13

Sometimes dozens of sulphur-coloured cockies’ crests appear. Where does he get all these crests from, does he go around scalping cockatoos?




His sparkling eye is violet, the sun reveals his feathers as blue-black, as indigo, as midnight blue.

My Book of Symbols says blue is the purest of colours, everything sinks into it and vanishes. Blue is other-worldly, the night-sky blue is the colour of dreams.

Blue paintings

Check out my favourite painter, Victor Rubin’s delicious ‘A Woollahra twilight’.  

More Victor Rubin works here. 

Victor Rubin’s work was collected by Patrick White and Manoly Lascaris. His ‘So why are we here?’, a scene of broken bodies and urban decay, was hung directly opposite visitors’ chairs in White’s house at Martin Rd.


So why are we here Victor Rubin 1982-1983

So why are we here Victor Rubin 1982-1983


Books with blue covers


Indigo Satyajit Ray

Indigo Satyajit Ray


Indigo, a collection of short stories of the supernatural by Bengali author Satyajit Ray 







Judith Beveridge Storm and Honey
Judith Beveridge Storm and Honey



Storm and Honey, poetry by Judith Beveridge. See ‘Rain’ a favourite poem.  







Robert Grey New Selected Poems
Robert Grey New Selected Poems


New Selected Poems, Robert Gray, my favourite poet. Images of the coast, the Hawkesbury, beaches, the sea.



smoke, cicadas, flight

On the morning we decide to evacuate from the fires, while running about trying to decide what to take and gathering up a few precious things, I notice the holes, neat and perfect, all the same size, drilled into the hard, baked ground. Then I see them, the cicadas, Black Princes, clinging to the front door.

Black Prince at the door

Black Prince at the door

The cicadas have emerged. The dry, broken cases of cicada nymphs are everywhere. Each has a hole in its back where the winged beauty has emerged, reminding me of Alien movies.




As the smoke from the Blue Mountains fires fingers through the trees, the cicadas are taking flight, positioning themselves and beginning their strident song. I love the sound of their chanting, but sometimes it can become maddening – the volume at close range can reach 120 decibels, which is approaching the threshold of human hearing.


This photo was taken in a past year, when things were greener

This photo was taken in a past year, when things were greener

As we pack the cars, preparing for our own flight, I notice the Bower Bird is catching and eating the newly emerged cicadas. He bats them on the ground, then peels and eats them like prawns.




Most of the birds seem to have disappeared with the advent of the fires, but the Satin Bower Bird, who lives in our front yard, has kept on playing, dancing, renovating and re-arranging his bower, despite the smoke and the nearby human activity of leaf-clearing and gutter-cleaning.


 "our" Bower Bird

And so we take a look at our place as we drive away, hoping it’ll be there when we return and that the Bower Bird will leave his playground if the fire comes.